Petrapole export halted
Export of essential commodities to Bangladesh through the Petrapole land port in North 24-Parganas was stopped by local residents with the support of Trinamul Congress leaders on Sunday.
The move came two days after operations had resumed at the port, with local sources saying they were afraid of a “community outbreak” of Covid-19 through the labourers engaged in daily operations.
Customs officials posted at the Petrapole land port, however, claimed that no labourers, except drivers, were at present involved in export operations.
“The Bangladeshi labourers are unloading goods from Indian trucks at the zero line and are loading their cargo on the spot,” an official said, adding that Indian drivers were returning only after proper sanitisation by BSF personnel.
On Sunday, nearly 500 villagers from Petrapole put up a blockade on the link road at Jayantipur market — 8km from the port — demanding a suspension of exports in the wake of the pandemic.
Sources said the protesters had also disallowed trucks destined for the port from leaving Bongaon on Sunday morning.
The blockade was withdrawn shortly before noon after police reassured the protesters that they would take up the matter with the state administration.
Local Trinamul leaders also marshalled the villagers to prevent officials from the Land Port Authority of India, Central Warehouse Corporation and customs from entering the port.
“No truck loaded with export items was able to enter the port today. Some people prevented our officials from entering the port. We have contacted senior officials,” said Subhajit Mandal, manager of the Land Port Authority at Petrapole.
On Thursday, export operations had resumed after a 39-day hiatus owing to the novel coronavirus-induced lockdown. Indian and Bangladeshi authorities had agreed to transfer goods at the zero point of the international border.
The export had resumed as per a proposal of the state government, which laid stress on transshipment of goods at the zero line so that trucks of Bangladesh and India didn’t cross the border and become a possible health hazard.
Sources said the resumption of the exports angered residents of the adjacent Chhaygharia gram panchayat and Trinamul-affiliated trade union organisations.
“We came to know that Benapole in Bangladesh has been seriously affected by Covid-19. So, anyone from there could be a carrier of the coronavirus. The decision to resume the exports put nearly 1,000 Indian labourers in a vulnerable situation,” said Amit Kumar Bose, executive president of the Trinamul-backed Petrapole Truck Loading-Unloading Shramik Union.
“Most of them live in and around Bongaon, which is still quite safe from the virus. So, we will not allow any trade through Petrapole,” he added.
Prasenjit Ghosh, chief of Chhaygharia panchayat, said: “People in Chhaygharia and Bongaon became afraid after learning of the resumption of exports at the port.”